Sunday, September 4, 2011

Query for Empty Spaces

After much internal debate, I've decided to post my newly written query for Empty Spaces. Remember, it's a first draft. I wrote it this weekend.

I'm not sure what I'm looking for, other than whether you think this is a book you'd like to read.

So. Feel free to weigh in. And thanks in advance for any help and or suggestions you might have.

Dear [agent],

There are crimes of passion. There are crimes of necessity. There are crimes of convenience.

And sometimes, they’re one and the same.

On a bright August morning, freshman Justin King pulls an assault rifle out of his backpack and opens fire at Eugene Community College, killing 54 students and teachers before he’s shot and killed by popular history professor Grant Bachman. As the citizens of Eugene, New Hampshire, struggle to comprehend the tragedy, the nation’s media descend like vultures.

Hours after the shooting, Grant finds himself drawn to fellow survivor Annie DeWitt, a beautiful 18-year-old lost girl who drowns her past in vodka, and dreams of a future singing on American Idol. Together, they cope with their trauma using drugs, alcohol, and an escalating series of suicidal thrills.

The day after the shooting, straight-arrow police Sgt. Rocco Beaupre makes a shocking discovery: Thousands of dollars worth of illegal drugs are missing from the department’s evidence room. Even worse, an assault rifle is unaccounted for.

When Grant, hailed as a hero by the media, is accused of beating his unfaithful wife, he’s briefly jailed. When he finds evidence that seems to link Annie to the shooter, he confronts her. And when Justin King’s missing cell phone is found in Grant’s car, both teacher and student run.

Over the course of five violent days, Grant and Rocco independently piece together a puzzle of passion, necessity, and convenience that grows more ominous with each passing minute. As Grant works to clear his name and determine Annie’s involvement, he discovers that in Eugene, no one is who they seem, and nothing is as it appears.

My first novel, EMPTY SPACES, is a 91,000-word suspense/thriller.

As a newspaper reporter, columnist, and editor, I’ve received more than a dozen national, regional, and state awards from the Associated Press and the Illinois Press Association for writing and reporting. I’ve also managed a federal Congressional campaign, helped build a school in a tiny Mayan village in the Yucatan Peninsula, and spent two months living in the coastal jungles of South America while searching for sunken Spanish galleons. In my spare time, I sleep.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Terry Towery
[personal information redacted]


  1. It's interesting, but reads a little scattered, like you've got two stories here and stitched them together. I think it would work better if you picked one storyline, and focused there.

    If you focus on the storyline with the cop, you can distill the girl's part in the story to maybe a sentence at the end to give a hint of the un-romance angle, but keep the focus on the main story. (Honestly, I'd cut the girl out all together, but that's me. I think it's stronger without her, and there's definitely enough meat to the story.)

    I'd also nix the "first novel" bit, but that's personal taste.

    Sounds like a great story, Terry.

  2. Terry, if I saw this synopsis on the back of the novel, I'd buy it. So much intrigue going on; and the characters are likeable, but so flawed I feel I can be angry at them at times also. This seems to be a novel where the MC takes some time to get to know, where empathy is earned, not automatically given.

    The premise is viable, the characters sufficiently introduced, the plot and conflict well built.

    The chronology of events could use some tweaking, and the bio has more personal info than required; but a good first draft all the same. The basic info seems to be imparted.

    If you'd like more specific critique, let me know and I'll e-mail you. Otherwise, the answer is a definite YES, I'd buy this novel.

    OH; and as for the title: it doesn't say much to me without seeing it in a specific section of the bookstore. But I like the title, and it does seem to fit with the crime/literary motif you wrote the novel in. I didn't get a chic lit feel at all, but I know you write suspense, so I didn't even think of it.

    From this blurb though, I'd say the title fits the overall concept of the novel.


  3. Considering this is only the first draft, I think you're in decent shape. The premise for the story is obviously interesting, and if you can get that across in the first draft you're off to a great start.

    I'll give you a few notes:

    You may want to change the gun to a sub-machine gun. I don't know of any assault rifles that can fit in a backpack, unless it's a huge mountaineering pack.

    Second, you may want to make it clear how old this professor is. It kind of sounds like he hooks up with this student, and since she's 18 that's not a huge problem, but we need to know just how Lolita this situation is.

    I also have to agree with Josin that you might be focusing on too many plot lines. You've got no less than four named characters in the query, and that can start to get confusing.

    Otherwise: great start!

  4. I found it confusing, which makes me wonder if the manuscript itself is not as fully/carefully focused as it should be.

    In one sentence, what is the premise? If you're counting on "The crimes of..." as being your enticing logline, that feels too vague to me. It doesn't give me an instant understanding of what your book is about, and then after I've read your summary, I'm still not sure where the focus is. Am I supposed to be rooting for Grant, who seems pretty unlikeable, except that he stopped the psycho school shooter? And what's Rocco got to do with everything? (You have probably presented too many named characters, and subplots, in your query.)

    The least helpful line is at the end, where Grant "discovers that in Eugene, no one is who they seem, and nothing is as it appears." Well, from everything that came before, that seems pretty obvious.

    The psycho school shooter aspect doesn't appear to fit well with the rest of the story. If Grant's ultimately being framed for his involvement in it, that doesn't make much sense to me.

    It could be that all you need is to re-vamp the query. Or, it could be that the story itself is still largely unfocused and not well-though out enough.

    Apologies if I was being too critical, but you asked, and it's my nature to be critical.

  5. First off, posting a query for people to dismantle is brave. Very brave.

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. Get rid of the first two paragraphs. They are too general and add nothing. Start with “On a bright August morning . . .”

    2. As I read this third paragraph I wondered, “What in the world is a professor doing with a gun at school?” This question wrecked the narrative flow, for me. I know you don’t want to get bogged down in details in a query, but is there some short way to justify this?

    3. “media descend like vultures” is a cliché. Either omit “like vultures” or make up a new simile. Another cliché is the ending “no one is who they seem, and nothing is as it appears.” Your query will show this. Come to think of it, "shocking discovery" is also a cliché (paragraph five).

    4. The fourth paragraph turned me off. Grant goes from being a hero to being a letch. It is disorienting to read about the naughty things Annie and Grant do in the following days and then have to rewind as the next paragraph starts “The day after” and introduces Rocco. Perhaps you could use a transition along the lines of "While Grant loses himself in (risky behavior of your choice), police sergeant Rocco Beaupre discovers . . ."

    5. This query contains too many cultural banes of the 21st century: school shooting, teacher/student affair, drugs, alcohol, spousal abuse and American Idol. Overload!

    Okay, I’m picking on you. Seriously though, there is too much going on in this query. As far as names go, you could omit the name of the shooter and not lose anything. I also like another commenter’s suggestion of lessening Annie’s presence in the query. It looks like the real players are the professor and the cop.

    Your biographical information is fascinating, but little (with the exception of your writing background) applies directly to this story. Every agent is different; check their preferences. Many won’t care about the non-writing aspects (even though they are the most intriguing). I’d also lose the joke: In my spare time, I sleep. Keep things professional.

    I'm also wondering if you should write "My novel is a . . . word suspense
    thriller" without the slash. "Suspense/thriller" looks like bad grammar, even though I've seen it used plenty of times to lump together the two closely-related genres.

  6. Love suspense novels - sounds like a good read. Have been reading these types of books as they are great easy reading with a catchy plot.

  7. Got some good advice already but I'll weigh in.

    So much is going on, it's hard to follow the storyline. Focus on your MC, what he wants, what keeps him from getting it. Then cut the query down. You only need to intrigue the reader into wanting to read pages.

    Your credentials are impressive but unless you've pubbed, your writing is the only thing that matters. If you lose that para, you'll have more space for your blurb part. Don't know how long this is, but it seems too long. Try to stick to 200-250 words.

    Sounds like a good story and so in tune with today's times. But I agree with the comment re prof/student relationship; also the one wondering what the prof was doing with a gun at school.

    Most of us do 10-20-100 versions of our query before sending out. After all, if the query isn't compelling, no one will ever read our wonderful ms.